All of my books deal with men who have gone through some sort of devastating event that leaves a permanent mark. I want to explain how and why I put my male characters through severe trials.
Our daughter has said, “You know you really put you men through a lot, don’t you?” I look at physical suffering as a metaphor for and a necessary part of spiritual refining. Silver and gold aren’t worth much unless they go through the furnace. The Scriptures talk a lot about putting men through very tough times. Jacob wrestled with the angel and got a permanent limp. Job was covered from head to foot with boils. Naaman got leprosy.
The Bible tells us that the refinement process is physical and spiritual. My characters go through suffering whether they’ve done anything to “deserve” it or not. Some people object to violence in Christian books. Fight child sexual slavery and you are likely to get hurt. Spy for Texas against Mexico, and, as one of my characters puts it, “there can be serious consequences.” Take on political and religious conflict and someone might try to take you out of the equation. Confront a boy with hard evidence that his hero’s “holy quest” might be a scam for personal gain and you will pay a price.
Even in my children’s and YA adventure series, Benny and the Bank Robber, there is a man who is mauled by a cougar. He was attacked trying to save someone else. Later he was stared at and avoided because of his scars. Yet he found a way to prove that God can “make all things new,” blending the character’s past with his present to make a future with marriage and godly service possible through God’s grace.
In the YA Medieval Suspense Hope and the Knight of the Black Lion, I needed a character who seems superhuman, but at the same time has unexplained bouts of weakness. There was so much depending on him, but he and others needed to depend on God. At one time he was arrogant, depending on his own abilities, but something other characters don’t know about happened to him. Now he operates with humility and reliance on a Power that never falters. This helps us understand where the “super power” comes from.
The Adult Romantic Suspense novel Chasing the Texas Wind describes a character, rumored to be a wounded war hero, who calls a promotion merely becoming “head clerk over a larger office of clerks.” He appears to drink and cannot even dance at his own wedding. What is he desperately trying to hide from his sham wife? She married him for a show of respectability and to have a veteran to show off at her fundraisers for wounded soldiers but keeps trying to like him, to get to know him. Is he just struggling with his own pride or are his secrets not his to share? Does he actually have more than one secret from the woman he grows to worship?
In The Baron’s Ring, a prince has to prepare himself to save his kingdom from ruin at the hands of his drunken, idolatrous brother. Can he do that by common labor, barter and befriending poverty-stricken villagers in a foreign land? Can merely being a teacher expose him to occult influences that seem to rob him of all his future hopes? This is the story of how a man finds strength overcome what seems a hopeless obstacle. It actually positions him to go back to the life he left with strength and maturity no one could foresee except for the God Who oversaw it all.
Some books make people suffer for no reason. These are governed by determinism, the belief that life has no purpose. Arbitrary forces brutalize or leave characters alone. These stories might teach lessons like the poem by William Ernest Henley, “Invictus,” producing an arrogant man whose “head is bloody, but unbowed.” But that is human pride and personal glory in a world that ends with the grave.
Sometimes man can act with self-sacrifice and humility on his own. To truly explain why people suffer, they need to know that this life is not the end. Nobody is really satisfied with the random chance theory. Confirmed atheists still demand to know why bad things happen to good people and they actually blame God. Even if it only makes us better humans and better servants of other humans, refinement cannot be a random, arbitrary process. Its real purpose is to fit us for heaven and to earn God’s “Well done, good and faithful servant.”